Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Coming up with an answer in Layman’s terms: What pet owners need to know about Pet Food Ingredients – An impossible task?

The question I am being asked by pet owners the most is “How do I pick the right food for my cat or dog?” Usually I have a standard explanation and I also refer to the many articles not just I have written myself on the subject, but also comments and articles, even books written by other experts knowledgeable about the subject. Yet, and I agree with the pet owners looking at these answers, these explanations are usually very extensive, therefore making the issue even more confusing.
Actually it should be easy, after all, the rules are seemingly pretty simple. But instead, the rules to the average pet owner make it more complicated. In addition, marketing tactics and strategies used by the pet food manufacturers do their own part to finally confuse us to the point that we don’t know anymore what to do.
That is why I made it my objective to come up with a simple solution to the problem, one that is easy to understand and useable by anybody without even knowing too much or getting too involved in studying pet food pro’s and con’s. But as we will learn today, it remains a complicated subject. I guess we just have to get used to it.
Pet food is regulated on individual state legislative level. The states are provided with guidance from the AAFCO (American Feed Control Officials). However, contrary of what they are made to believe, pet owners need to know that this does not mean that pet foods contain the optimal ingredients for all pets. Pet food companies represent the largest single outlet for human food by-products. Many of these ingredients can consist of inexpensive, inconsistent, and less nutritious fractions or waste. Following here I will try to make some recommendations on what pet owners should look for on pet food labels concerning the most important main ingredient categories: Protein, carbohydrates, fats and oils and preservatives.
Starting with your protein sources, as a rule of thumb, good pet food will have a high quality protein source. In most cases you want to make sure that the main protein source is listed as one of the first couple ingredients, I personally always make sure I take one which lists it as number one ingredient. I would rate as the best choice any named meat meal. “Named” meaning by what it actually is, like for example chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, duck, venison, etc. rather than “unnamed, generic” “poultry” meal or “animal meal”. As an example, AAFCO considers as chicken meal “the dry rendered product from a combination of clean flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts of whole carcasses of chicken or combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet, or entrails.” And so that everybody can understand it: A named meal, such as for example chicken meal is considered to be a good source of protein in commercial pet foods.
That was simple, right? So where does it become confusing? For starters, let’s see the remainder of the AACO statement, which I have left out: “(the meal) shall be suitable for use in animal food.”??? The remainder left out in “so that everybody understands”: …it is basically cooked down chicken.??? The quality of the chicken meal depends completely on the chicken it is derived from??? Plus: There are minimum requirements (AAFCO Nutrient Profiles) for all life stages of an animal. Animals at different life stages require different amounts of protein. And why is a “chicken meal” better than pure “chicken”? What is the difference in the first place?
Let me throw in more important things we are told to pay attention to: Digestibility, metabolizable energy, dry matter basis. By now I probably have most of you scratching your heads. And I don’t blame you.
That is why I like Dr. Wysong’s, D.V.M. straight forward, simple advice:
“Your pet does not need “a” food. It also doesn’t need a certain % of protein, calcium, taurine or any other nutrient guaranteed on a package. It needs a variety of foods and different meals. Those meals should be fresh, natural and healthy as much as possible.
… Be as creative with your pet’s food bowl as you are with your own…. You do not have to feed every nutrient at every meal. Your pet has reserve capacity. Take it easy; apply the same simple logic to pet feeding that you do to yourself. Change your definition of “simple,” from one specific food fed at every meal, to the “simple” logic of feeding pets like you feed yourself…. Health is not something somebody else like a doctor, food manufacturer or pharmacist does to you. It is something you do to yourself … and your pet. So relax a little. You don’t need a rocket scientist to help you feed your pet. Just use the same common sense you use for yourself and your family everyday. Think of it this way: After all, pets are people too.”
If we all follow his advice, we are not going to need a rating system. For the ones who still would like to have one, I will keep thinking about it and promise to come up with something. Just not this morning at 2 am. Of course it would be helpful if I could get some feed back and even maybe ideas how to approach this objective. Concepts and visions of what the resulting easy reference rating system should look like. My problem is that I sometimes myself get carried away and with my best intention to cover every possible aspect then make it too complicated again. Just yesterday a friend of mine who is also a good customer told me: “At one side I learn a lot from you. But on the other side you are no help. You make it too confusing because you give me too many options.” If I am honest with myself I have to agree. I am going to chew on that for a while and in the meantime will be waiting for your feedback to come in.

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